Midnight Pub

The Fourth Estate is a Critical Element of Democracy


For the past few months I've been realizing just how easy it is to enter the field of amateur journalism. I've never been very interested in the field, never took any courses about it, and I've never even been inside a newspaper office. Nonetheless, recent events in the public and private sector have spurred me to document the world around me as much as I can, with my small digital camera and a microphone.

I've realized just how easy it is to access certain events and get free interviews with notable figures if you label yourself as a citizen journalist. I don't do this out of compulsion or clout-chasing, rather I feel it's my duty as a member of a participatory Democracy to gauge the sentiment of the American people during a given point in time by filming unbiased, direct interviews where I ask direct questions to real people. In decades, the footage I shot could be used by historians as firsthand evidence. I feel that at this point in time, citizen journalism is perhaps more important than ever, as it carries with it a much more personal and grounded element than professional journalism.

Nonetheless, there are ethical standards one must adhere to if one is to be respected and trusted within the field. One must never film anyone without their consent. If an interviewee asks that the footage you shot be erased, you must comply, and you must at all times remain professional and calm with your line of questioning, even if the subject matter is unsettling for the interviewee. You must retain compassion for those you're filming, yet at the same time respect their agency and their ability to make their voices heard. It is a tricky craft, yet with practice it becomes easier, and your presence at public events may become not only routine but expected.

The other standard to take into consideration, I would argue, is that citizen journalism is not about you. You are merely a voice behind the camera, asking participants to say what they would have said otherwise. Citizen journalism is about the will of the people, and you are merely a conduit by which they might express themselves to a considerable audience. Interviews taken in the pursuit of honest coverage should never be monetized, lest your efforts become accused of the same monetary corruption which befalls CNN and FOX. Citizen Journalism is different as it has no motivation save the spread of thoughts, opinions, and feelings. In this avenue, of being non-monetizable, it is an excellent hobby which cannot overtake your career. And that's also important, I would say, not to see it as a career but as a civic obligation. Voting isn't a career.

I have seen some pretty traumatic things in these past few days, yet at the same time I've been inspired by the conviction of people who were willing to step in front of my camera and make themselves heard. It does take a lot of courage and strength to do something like that, and I have learned a lot about the importance of maintaining a respectful boundary between yourself and the interviewee, keeping in mind at all times that journalism is not something to be taken lightly. It must be treated with dignity and with sincerity.

I believe people, when you get right down to it, are extremely communicative beings, they require some sort of output as well as an input for mental and emotional stimuli, and that is the function of any reporter worth their salt. There's something worthwhile about a verbal exchange which is not motivated by money, or personal gain, or even any sort of societal prestige, but rather by the free market of ideas. Since I started asking people questions, I've heard insights and commentary which open my mind and expand my perspective. People have been upfront with me about things they likely wouldn't be otherwise, and there are few things more respectable than that.

To anyone looking to take up Citizen Journalism during your spare time, adhere to the ethical guidelines outlined above, research your local filming legislature, and invest in a good-quality camera and mic. Be warned, however- this undertaking is not for the faint of heart. You must keep your wits and composure about you at all times, and be prepared for the repercussions of how you conduct yourself. Journalists are every bit as accountable for their behavior as any citizen, and this is in effect what Citizen Journalism aims to reinforce- that the fourth estate must be comprised of people without power so as to keep those in power in check, and without this fundamental element journalism isn't worth much.


I applaud these efforts, as well as those of the Citizen Science movement (which may/may not be related).

What were some of the more traumatic things you've seen?



Possibly a bit on the pessimistic side, but I don't see even the best journalism being any match for the absence of a critical mass of intelligent beings to grok and act up on it in collectively beneficial ways.